If you walked along West Georgia St. this week after dark you may have seen the Vancouver Art Gallery brought to life. Featuring 11 specially commissioned artists, the Façade Festival projects innovative and site-specific works across the southern face of the gallery. Now in its fourth iteration, the festival has grown from an initial (annual) roster of five artists with work projected onto a small portion on the north side of the gallery, to a biennial event offering audiences space to gather on the south plaza for a fully immersive experience.
The featured artists are chosen by a selection committee, then approached and asked to submit pitches for the space. All pitches must be approved, and some tweaking may happen during that process, explains Kate Bellringer, director and curator of Burrard Arts Foundation, the non-profit that runs the festival.
“We want the work to be aesthetically beautiful,” she explains. “It has to appeal to a wide audience. The content of the work is very important, and the subject matter has to be appropriate for that large-scale viewing.”
This year, for the first time, a number of artists have taken on issues such as women’s rights and reconciliation. “It wasn’t a deliberate decision we made at the selection stage, Bellringer notes. “It’s just where these artists took it.
Because the festival is site-specific, we do want them to consider the building, or the plaza, the Indigenous territory the gallery sits upon… We want to make sure they are considering the site. I think the way the artists have approached these subjects is very approachable.”
One noted artist—Dana Claxton (who had a solo exhibition inside the gallery in 2018)—initially turned down the invitation to participate.
“When we first asked her if she’d be interested, I don’t think she had an idea,” recalls Bellringer.
“About a week later I bumped into her and told her how sorry I was that she didn’t want to take part, and she said, ‘I changed my mind, I have a great idea!’
“That,” the curator admits, “was a really exciting moment for me.”
The festival has been showing the finished works in pairs this week, but tonight and tomorrow night (September 13 and 14), audiences can take in the full festival program (starting at 7:30pm and repeating until midnight). There is also a free artist panel discussion at the art gallery at 3pm on Saturday afternoon.
But stay home, and you’ll miss it. “It really only makes sense on this site for a brief moment,” Bellringer insists. “And then everything—the whole world—changes. And I think there is something really special about witnessing an artwork that fits for that fleeting moment, and then it’s over.
“If you miss it, you’re not going to see it again,” she adds. “You have to get out and experience it. It’s not something you can save for later and enjoy from your couch.”
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